On one issue, most Americans agree: They think President Obama will win

National polls show President Obama holds just a slight lead over Mitt Romney – but far more Americans say they believe the president will be the ultimate victor in November.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
President Obama greets people in the crowd during a campaign event at Lions Park, Thursday, Sept. 13, in Golden, Colo.

National polls may show that the presidential race remains close – though lately, President Obama appears to have opened up a slight lead.

But when it comes to which candidate Americans think will win, the results are far more lopsided. A strong majority of voters believe Mr. Obama will win reelection – and that includes many who aren’t planning to vote for him themselves.

According to a new Yahoo/Esquire poll, 57 percent of Americans believe Obama will be the winner, versus just 30 percent who think Romney will win. (The same poll also found that 58 percent believe Obama would beat Romney “in a fistfight,” but that’s fodder for another time…)

That’s similar to what Gallup found in late August – when 58 percent of Americans said they thought Obama would win the election, versus 36 percent who thought Romney would. And that was just a slight increase from May, when Gallup found that 56 percent of Americans thought Obama would win, to 36 percent for Romney.

The expectation that Obama will win appears even stronger on Intrade, the online predictions market, where Obama’s odds of winning reelection are now hovering around 65 percent.

The interesting question, of course, is what impact these expectations have on the race itself. Do they make Romney supporters more determined to turn out for their candidate, while making Obama supporters more complacent? Or do they become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy?

According to Gallup, Americans tend to be pretty accurate with their predictions (at least, when it comes to picking the eventual winner, if not the margin of victory). In June of 2008, by 52 to 41 percent, they thought Obama would defeat Sen. John McCain. By October of that year, that expectation had become overwhelming, with 71 percent saying Obama would win versus just 23 percent saying Senator McCain would.

Likewise, back in 2004, Americans were almost always more likely to predict President Bush would be the winner than Sen. John Kerry. (The closest Senator Kerry came to winning that question was one poll where expectations were evenly split, immediately following the Democratic convention).

Our sense is that when expectations are this consistent – when one candidate is viewed as far more likely to win throughout an entire campaign – it creates a real challenge for the underdog. One of the biggest hurdles Romney has faced throughout this campaign is that he doesn’t seem like a winner, not to many in his own party, and not to members of the media who are covering him. And that can have a deadly effect.

As we’ve seen in recent days, Romney’s bad decisions are often magnified as acts of desperation, his good ones discounted as too little too late. During the GOP convention, some speakers seemed to be thinking more about 2016 than 2012, and numerous so-called “allies” have been freely offering public advice that sounds more like criticism. In other words, Romney is being treated like a losing candidate. That doesn't mean he can't win. But when a candidate is predominantly viewed through that lens, it creates a dynamic that seems to make winning even harder.

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